On a typical New York City day in 1989, there’d be reports of nine rapes, five murders, 255 robberies and 194 aggravated assaults. It wasn’t exactly the ideal destination for a theology professor living in a leafy suburb of Philadelphia with three young children. But that’s where the Presbyterian Church in America asked Tim Keller to go.
Almost three decades later, Keller is stepping down from his role as head pastor at one of the largest churches in New York City. What began as a 200-congregant gathering in space rented from a Seventh-day Adventist church has now blossomed into Redeemer Presbyterian — with three separate services totaling 5,200 people per week. In addition, Keller’s network has planted over 300 churches in cities across the country and around the world.
But he has clearly come to love New York City in particular, and in the next stage of his career, Keller will be leading a campaign to plant a new church in every neighborhood in the Big Apple.
His aim isn’t to take people away from the churches where they already belong but “to welcome and serve those who do not currently profess faith.” New churches, he says (and research backs him up), have a much better chance of attracting unbelievers than older ones do.
Keller doesn’t see himself as a religious crusader living in some kind of haven for secular hedonists, though. Faith is alive and well in New York, he believes. And not just the squishy liberal kind either.
“The first thing I’ve noticed is that in almost 30 years, the numbers of conservative Protestant churches across the five boroughs has increased greatly,” Keller tells me. “In light of the decline of religion among millennials across the country, it’s worth noting that much of this growth has been among young adults.”
Getting young adults in a city to church is not easy. Marriage is often the thing that brings people to a religious community and young people living in urban areas are often more likely to delay marriage and family in favor of pursuing a career.
But Redeemer has consistently brought a younger generation to his congregation. “The goal of our ministry,” he says, “is to show self-sufficient urban people that ‘their hearts are restless until they find their rest in God,’ that their lives and the world are inexplicable until they see we are alienated from God. Sometimes they are drawn into community where they discover that truth. Other times they come into community as a result of realizing it.”
Keller sees an integral part of the church’s mission as being present in the big cities — no matter how culturally degraded they may seem. “Christians ought to be present and engaged everywhere that there are people. But across the world people are flocking to cities at the rate of millions per year.
“Christians don’t all need to live in cities, but they should at least be moving there in the same proportions as the people whom they want to serve.”
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SOURCE: New York Post – Naomi Schaefer Riley